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Managing Schedules
How To Use Trello For Project Management: Expert Tips & Tricks

There once was a young girl who would watch her mother write list after list during her childhood. Her mother was constantly crossing tasks off her lists and remaking her task lists.

The house was in perfect order and nothing in life ever seemed to get missed. Fast forward 20 years and this girl took all of that organization and planning she was surrounded by in her youth and turned it into a successful career in project management. 

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m that girl and I owe much of my career skills to my mother, who at the time was annoyingly organized.

Continuously seeing my mother think through processes, create task lists, and organize a household and events have come in pretty handy once I started experimenting with different career paths. Nothing really seemed to stick until I stumbled into process and project management.

But as I grew and changed, so did the world around me. Online tools, apps and fast paced planning are the name of the game and those manual lists and planning just weren’t aren’t cutting it anymore. Enter Trello and the wider world of project management software.

I’ll cover:

Why Trello?

Trello was one of the first project management tools I started to use to build a delivery practice at the first digital agency I worked at.

As the lone project manager, it was my role to build out the process around tools and to continuously make our digital project management practice more efficient for the team. We used Trello as our main hub for delivering digital projects.

Trello takes the guesswork out of project management. It is one of the most intuitive and easy-to-use tools that can be implemented for digital project management, especially for smaller teams. The learning curve is low, so it makes for an easier onboarding experience for new team members and clients alike.

Trello also works well within a remote team if the right parameters, processes, and expectations are set. Due to this, at this agency, we were known for our delivery process and the ease of understanding that Trello brought to all things project related.

It is a tool that fosters collaboration and gives you and your team the ability to organize your project into columns of cards (the project tasks), as seen below. This allows project managers to easily tell who and what is being worked on and where a task is in the process.

trello board showing the columns and cards
The basics of a Trello board.

One of the top benefits I’ve experienced when using Trello for project management is that it seems to increase the level of commitment from individual project team members and inspires the breakdown of tasks via cards or checklists on cards. 

Creative team members may think in a different way than a project manager, and could become overwhelmed by generalized goals. There is nothing wrong with this, but that is why us project managers are there, to guide them through so they can focus on the quality of the creative elements of the project. 

We all know the satisfaction of checking off a task box as done and Trello adds to this by allowing each team member to move their tasks from “to do”, to “doing”, to “done”.

This fosters some healthy competition between teammates when it comes to meeting deadlines and finishing tasks. It creates a domino effect when team members see others committing to their tasks, and contributes to a greater need to do your part in contributing to the work.

Related Read: How To Use Kanban For Project Management

What Makes Trello Awesome? 

Let’s look at the benefits of using Trello for project management and within other areas of an agency or organization.

  • Trello can be used for both waterfall and agile planning methodologies, but due to the kanban board style, this tool works best with the agile method. However, a variety of views, including a traditional gantt chart view, allow you to work and make adjustments according to your preference.
  • You can assign more than one person to a task or card at the card level or the checklist level. The card will remain open until all assigned team members have completed their tasks.
  • Trello has a library of templates to choose from, or you can create your own by duplicating any project at any time and saving it as a template. This way, you aren’t recreating the same project over and over again.
  • Trello cards have built-in features for adding the heading and description of the task, so tasks are easily identifiable. You can also attach certain links, videos, images and documents to each individual card. This includes links to documents—you can still store your documents in your prefered storage tool and then link to them on the relevant trello card.
  • You can link cards together if they are associated with each other so one won’t be closed without the other being completed if that is what is required.
  • You can make Trello boards public to the organization or keep them private. This means only the people that need access to your project boards have access. 
  • Trello workspaces can also be set up for cross-organization planning, including program management or other departments such as people management or leadership planning. You can make boards and cards confidential using the private feature.
  • You can access it from anywhere. The Trello app is very user friendly, allowing you to do most of the functions available to you from the full application on your laptop. There is also a desktop app if you prefer not logging into the site app each time.
  • Plugin availability is high, so you can set up your workflow to incorporate many of the organization tools you already use.
  • You can mention people in comments and they will get notified via email or through the trello app. Here’s a tip: integrating slack allows you to also mirror activity on Trello cards into a project slack channel if that is a preference.

How To Supercharge Your Trello Board With Add-Ons

I’ve taken you through why to use Trello for project management, but let's look at some of the other items I recommend to make Trello work with your project management style, automate daily tasks to make them simpler to manage, keep your team engaged, and produce a quality product for your client.

1. Trello Butler

One of the best Trello resources by far is the Trello Butler. It is a workflow automation feature that allows you to create custom recurring tasks. Use the built in commands, which allow for a specific action to occur when another action either on the same board or a different board takes place. 

For example, if you have two project boards that are connected or which contain duplicate task cards, you set up an automation that updates the card on one board when an action is completed on the other board. This ensures nobody misses an update and it’s one less task for project managers to keep up on.

The commands or actions that are created can then be viewed in the action list from the top of your board as seen in the screenshot below.

trello butler screenshot
Where to view your commands/actions once created on your Trello board (source).

2. Trello Power Ups 

In the works of Trello themselves, “supercharge” your workflows. Trello has a directory of 200+ Power Ups to increase the productivity of your Trello workflows. Integrate the other tools you use, such as calendars, voting, Slack, Teams, Google Sheets, or Gmail, so they are easy to access from each board.

This allows you to link and send information to the other tools you are using within your organization. After you add your power-ups, access them on the right column of each card as seen below.

trello power ups screenshot
Here’s where to access the Power-ups you have added to your Trello board.
illustration with text "Kelly's favourite power-up"

Bulk Actions: This is the ability to update multiple cards, checklists, or dates on multiple cards at once. A PM’s dream!

3. Trello Views

See your project in another format other than the kanban style board with views such as timeline, dashboard, calendar, map or workspace view. Note: Views are only available with Trello premium and Trello enterprise accounts.

illustration with text "Kelly's favourite view"

Dashboard View: Seeing all my projects at a glance to determine priority, bottlenecks, and high level data reporting keeps me on top of project status and makes it easy for me to report to my department head or my clients in a more efficient way.

dashboard showing different charts and graphs containing data
Dashboard view featuring high level data for easy reporting from Trello (source).

4. Chrome extensions 

As if Trello didn’t have enough workflow customization built in, Chrome also has a library of various extensions to add additional visual elements and workflow options to your Trello boards.

Many make the due dates, labels, and cards easier to read visually, which allows team members and project managers to keep up quickly and see issues more easily so they can work to fix them right away. Traditional Gantt chart planning doesn’t always provide the ability to see these issues so easily.

illustration with text "Kelly's favourite extension"

Truello: An all in one plug-in that shows the following on cards:

  • True age for the Trello card: Trello has aging built-in, but isn’t as robust and is often inaccurate
  • Card count for each column 
  • Card number
  • Full label name instead of just the label colour

Here’s what Trello looks like before Truello, with basic labelling and none of the other elements.

trello board without truello screenshot
A before look at a Trello board without the Truello add-on (source).

Here’s what Trello looks like after Truello, with all elements listed above on all cards.

trello board with truello screenshot
An after look at a Trello board with the Truello add-on elements (source).

Other Recommended Extensions

Next Steps for Trello 

Next Steps For Trello allows you to see the next checklist item on the front of the card instead of having to open each time.

next steps for trello screenshot with checklist item on the front of the trello card
See the next step highlighted on the front of your Trello cards.

Trello Cards Optimizer 

Trello Cards Optimizer is another extension that adds visual elements to make a project manager’s planning and monitoring of projects easier at a glance.

trello cards optimizer screenshot
Trello board with additional visual elements using Trello Cards Optimizer add-on.

See ya later task lists!

So there you have it! My mother’s manual tasks lists may be a thing of the past (for me, not her) but Trello takes it to the next level, allowing you to stay organized through a brilliant visual planning tool that has turned project management workflows into a more collaborative customizable and automated task management system that will suit every member of your team or organization in some way.

Hot tip: I also use Trello for planning trips and events, and also as a brainstorm board to track all the great ideas and adventures I want to embark on in life. Dive in today, Trello’s free for you to start to get the hang of it. It’s a planning tool for work and life and will change the way you organize the most important day to day tasks.

To learn more about project management software and the benefits to you and your project team, subscribe to The Digital Project Manager for content to help you elevate your daily work practices to the next level.

By Kelly Ostrowercha

Kelly Ostrowercha is a freelance Project Management leader based in Vancouver. She has 15+ years of successfully developing people, teams, and processes in digital agencies, small start-ups and larger corporations, with a people-first mentality.

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